What are the differences between Victorian poetry and Romantic poetry?

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Romantic poetry, more so than Victorian, emphasized the power of the imagination and man’s relationship to the supernatural. One of the early romantic poets, William Blake, highlighted both of these romantic attributes in his 1794 poem “The Tyger.”

The poem, composed of six quatrains, poses a series of questions to what at first seems to be a tiger:

Tyger, tyger burning bright

in the forests of the night;

what immortal hand or eye,

could frame thy fearful symmetry.

As the poem progresses, it becomes apparent that Blake is doing more than addressing a tiger; he is wondering about God’s role in creating the being (Satan) who introduced evil and sin to the world:

What the hammer? what the chain,

in what furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil, what dread grasp,

Dare its deadly terrors clasp.

This extended metaphor, in which Blake compares God’s creative work to that of a blacksmith, is an imaginative way to express the idea of God’s power. It also raises the question of why God would make something that he knew would someday betray him. This imaginative questioning is typical of the romantic mindset, which usually admitted and often explored the role of the supernatural in our daily lives.

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The primary difference – Man’s relationship to the world he lives in – is reflected primarily not so much in form as in the mise-en-scene – the atmosphere of the surroundings the poet is describing or in which story is unfolding.  Romanticism celebrated and encouraged Man’s relation to nature, to the natural rhythm and beauty of the fact that man is born into his natural surroundings, and should be encouraged to remember and re-connect with his place in the natural world.  Victorianism, on the other hand, saw a future that would be built on controlling Nature, in the form of industry, scientific invention, and control of natural resources, a world in which Man was not part of Nature, but rather the ruler of it.  While poetry still maintained formal structures, rhymes, meters, etc., the subject matter changed quite noticeably, and the poet’s relation to his subject changed from one of participation to one of domination.  These changes are of course reflected in history and sociology as well – colonialism, technical progress, and the like.

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